The People of Gibraltar

1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 11. Superiors and Generals

Dr Scandella and Sister Eustochium Norton - Isabel Garcia and Dr McAuliffe,
Encarnación Fernandez and Sister Christina O’Neill - Mother Elizabeth Boylan 
Mother Elizabeth Boylan and Mother Angela - Mother Josephine Underhill Sister Helena O’Hanlon and Bishop Canilla -  Mother Joseph Fitzpatrick 
Mother Stanislaus Cousse Murphy and Mother Stanislaus Cousse Murphy

Now the Loreto nuns were established in a more salubrious part of the Rock. The snag was, however, that they were living right next door to the Bishop and his entourage. In the mid 1830s, ten years before the arrival of the Loreto nuns, the Christian Brothers had had their baptism of fire during their short two-year sojourn in Gibraltar.  In the climate of the times it was even more difficult for women to maintain their independence from the men of power, whether bishops, clergy, school committees or governments. 

It appears that since their move to Europa Bishop Scandella began to take over the running of the Convent. As far back as 1703, at the time of the Approbation of the 81 Rules of the Institute and well before the first Loreto community was set up in Ireland, there had been much discussion about the government of the IBVM and the position of the Chief Superior.  Clement XI had informally closed the discussion with the words: “Lasciate governare le donne dalle donne”. 

Sisters and students in Gibraltar ( 1893 - Unknown )

Over a hundred years later the Loreto Sisters had not yet managed to establish their entitlement to self-government under their own Chief Superior and to freedom from intrusion into their affairs, despite the Papal Bulls  “Inscrutabili” and “Quamvis Justo” which had been issued by Clement XI in 1703 and Benedict XIV in 1749. . . . 

In Gibraltar too the Bishop was taking over, even interfering in and sometimes altering the little customs and traditions the Loreto sisters had brought with them from Rathfarnham. The Annals complain that: “Dr Scandella made himself Superior General of the nuns, and ruled with a rod of iron”

He made the lives of some of the nuns miserable and even went so far as to refuse them absolution after confession. The Bishop came to the refectory ‘on state days’, said grace and dined with the nuns. On those occasions Sister Eustochium Norton was always appointed to serve the meal. Isabel Garcia, now Sister Trinidad, was required to prepare the bath for the Bishop’s Secretary, Dr McAuliffe, when he took one. In the days before running water this would have entailed heating water and carrying it up to the Bishop’s quarters in buckets.

 On the Eve of Receptions and Professions each Sister was consulted by the aspirant about her suitability to join their Community. For some reason black gloves were always worn and the occasion became known as “Mother Stanislaus Cousse Murphy”. Dr Scandella now decided he would preside at these rituals.
The story goes that on one occasion in the late 1860s or early ‘70s, when Encarnación Fernandez from Cadiz was to be received, Sister Christina O’Neill would not come down for the ceremony; she said Sister Encarnación had no vocation and should not be received. The Bishop refused to go on with the ceremony until Sister Christina was present so he sent Mother Elizabeth Boylan to fetch her. Mother Elizabeth found Sister Christina in her cell and implored her to come down. Allowing herself to be persuaded she appeared at the refectory door to be greeted by His Lordship with: “Bad nun! Bad nun!” . . .Encarnación left the house some time afterwards. 

Main Street   (1880s - G. W. Wilson )   (See LINK)

Having taken over the running of the Convent the Bishop now decided he wanted to appoint a lay administrator over the Superior to deal with the financial affairs of the Community. Of course the Superior, Mother Angela Kelly, would not consent to such an arrangement. She protested and wrote to Mother Teresa Ball in Rathfarnham. . . .Kelly . . .received no reply from Mother Teresa. Bishop Scandella persisted. Feeling she was getting no redress from Rathfarnham, Mother Angela, having been Superior in Gibraltar for some thirteen years, left the Convent with Mother Josephine Underhill and Sister Helena O’Hanlon. Together the three opened a High School for Girls in the town. . . .

Mother Angela and her two companions are recorded in the Gibraltar Census of 1878 as living over what is now the Cannon Hotel in Cannon Lane. Their school in the town was well patronised. It was probably situated not far from where they lived, in the vicinity of Pitman’s Alley or College Lane, or even possibly in the building where they lived; there were other small ‘schools’ in the area which had nothing to do with Loreto. 

Cannon Hotel in Cannon Lane in the 21st century

Many of the Gibraltarians sympathised with Mother Angela, so much so that when in 1895 the Golden Jubilee of the nuns’ arrival on the Rock came around Bishop Canilla felt it would be imprudent to celebrate the event publicly since “Mrs Kelly” was still alive. Many Gibraltarian families confused Bishop Scandella with the Institute and as a result were alienated from the Community for some time afterwards. . . 

Bishop Gonzalo Canilla (1891-1898 )

Mother Joseph Fitzpatrick was now sent from Rathfarnham to replace the Superior who had left. When she arrived she was told that the Bishop had already appointed his own Superior, Mother Stanislaus Cousse Murphy. Mother Joseph had been a member of the Bray Community. Without a word of protest she accepted the situation, and became Assistant Superior to Mother Stanislaus. The Bishop’s appointed Superior, Mother . . . Murphy,“…gave in to Bishop Scandella in everything, some said for love, others said through fear.”

There are stories of ‘tussles’ between this Bishop and the Loreto nuns, no doubt as a result of misconceptions about who filled what role in which sphere of influence. . . In 1864 Dr Scandella initiated negotiations with the church authorities in Algeciras and they agreed to return the 15th century effigy of Our Lady of Europa which they had held since the Spanish exodus from Gibraltar in August 1704. 

Our Lady of Europa (1462 )

The condition was that he would arrange for Algeciras to be given an exact replica of the image. The original was duly brought to Gibraltar where the Loreto Sisters looked after it from the time they arrived in Europa in 1864 (officially in January 1865) until the Little Sisters of the Poor arrived twenty years later in 1883. 

Loreto’s Boarding School and Convent was now renamed “Our Lady of Europa” after the image and shrine situated just behind the property. The Bishop used frequently to come to Mother Stanislaus Cousse Murphy for money to defray the costs of the many building projects under way, some on the Europa Road site where his plan for St Bernard’s College for boys was being developed, and others about the town, in particular the proposed new Sacred Heart Church. There are still people in Gibraltar who refer to it as ‘la iglesia nueva’ though it is now well over a hundred years old. 

Castle Street with a view of the Iglesia Nueva aka The Sacred Heart Church.